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Utter Fear & Desperation In Syria; A Bin Laden "Right-Hand Man" Going Free?; Race And The 2012 Election; Man Kills Two Boys, Self in House Explosion; Former Intern Claims Affair with JFK; President Obama Deserves a Second Term?; Pig Decals End up on Police Cruisers

Aired February 6, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now --

Right-hand to Osama Bin Laden going free. The stunning court decision that would put this dangerous al Qaeda force back on the streets. What's going on?

Plus, a missing woman's two children savagely killed in a horrifying home explosion police say the father rigged. Just ahead, Nancy Grace with shocking new information about what allegedly caused this heart-wrenching disaster.

And a former White House intern reveals the steamy details of an affair she claims she had with President Kennedy almost 50 years ago.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We begin with a scene of utter fear and desperation in Syria. This video purportedly showing families with children attempting to flee a bombed-out neighborhood under heavy gunfire. Another 74 people were reportedly killed just today and some say, because of the United Nations, the Syrian government now has a green light to intensify its brutal crackdown.

Let's go straight to CNN's Arwa Damon. She's standing by nearby Beirut with the latest on Homs. Homs in Syria, a city under siege. What is the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the majority of the casualties that you just mentioned there, Wolf, happening in the flash point city of Homs that continues to be the epicenter of this government crackdown. Activists are describing it as a blood bath that is taking place as the world watches.


DAMON (voice-over): "What did we do for you to treat us like this?" This little girl asks, her head bandaged after injuries to her eye. We can't tell if she's being prompted to speak out against the Assad regime, but the pain and misery emanating from Syria is echoed in various videos posted to YouTube.

DANNY, ACTIVIST IN HOMS, SYRIA: They've been bombarded with molar bombs and tank shells for the last --

DAMON: Danny, an activist that CNN has regularly be in touch with, knows it only too well.

DANNY: I thought really horrible things I've never seen in my life. A kid with his whole jaw gone. A little girl, a kid, she's four years old, she's dead. Her sister, six years old, she lost her left eye, and her mother is in intensive care.

DAMON: No one has been spared the violence that reached unprecedented levels just as the U.N. debated and failed to unite on Syria over the weekend. The vetoes by Russia and China of what was already a watered-down version of a resolution condemning the violence seemed to have emboldened the regime, although, the Syrian government denies the crackdown.

These are chaotic scenes from a field hospital in (INAUDIBLE) said to have been hit by rocket or mortar fire. The doctor, hysterical as he moves through the injured, pointing to a man whose legs had to be amputated, he says. And another, who they were unable to save.

This clip was posted from the town of Rastan just outside of Homs. A little girl lies in a hospital bed saying she's scared, scared of needles and scared for Hasaan lying in the bed next to her.

DANNY: You don't know if the rocket is going to come in your living room or your kitchen. Everyone is becoming used to death here. Blood in the streets. People think our blood is just like water.

DAMON: Many of the videos are simply too graphic to show. This clip also from Homs, a child whose leg has been blown off. No matter how Syria plays out, the suffering will be felt for decades to come.


DAMON (on-camera): And what makes it all even more tragic, Wolf, is that at the very least in the near term, there seems to be no solution. As long as the international community remains divided, the Assad regime will continue to be emboldened, and the window for dialogue when it comes to various parties on the ground speaking to the government, well, that effectively closed a long time ago because of all the bloodshed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, is there any indication that the Syrian government is widening its campaign beyond the city of Homs right now?

DAMON: Well, the crackdown is taking place in homes, but it is also taking place almost simultaneously in various Damascus suburbs, specifically, in suburbs where it seemed that the government was not in full control, where the free Syrian army was, at least, able to maneuver to a certain degree.

Some of the clashes taking place there just 10 to 15 minutes from the heart of the capital. the crackdown also continues in the province of Idlib, and to a lesser degree, in the southern province of Daraa as well. So, while the heaviest clashes and the highest death tolls coming out the city of Homs, this crackdown by the Syrian government forces is still spread to all of these areas of descent throughout the entire country.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Beirut for us, thank you.

The United States, meanwhile, is taking new protective steps in the wake of the worsening Syria crisis shutting down its embassy in Damascus and pulling out all remaining diplomatic staff. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now with this part of the story. A dramatic move by the Obama administration, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And you know, shutting an embassy is a major step, but the security situation in Syria is so bad, the state department says, they had to do it. Diplomatic efforts at the U.N. to stop the violence hit a brick wall as the carnage worsens.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): More killings in Syria, more exasperation in Washington over how to stop it.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We need to act to allow a peaceful political transition to go forward before the regimes escalating violence puts a political solution out of reach.

DOUGHERTY: But President Obama, so far, is using words not weapons, telling NBC --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention. I think that's possible.

DOUGHERTY: Monday, the U.S. shuts its embassy in Damascus concerned it could become a target of attacks by al Qaeda.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: The situation in and around Damascus is becoming increasingly violent reflecting the fact that the regime is increasingly losing control.

DOUGHERTY: Ambassador Robert Ford and staff pull out, but the U.S. insists it's not severing relations. The Syrian embassy in Washington remains opened, and Ford is still ambassador. The state department says he will maintain contact with his Syrian opposition and continue our efforts to support the peaceful political transition. Britain recalls its ambassador to London for consultations, blasting the Syrian president.

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: This is a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime. There is no way it can recover its credibility internationally or with its own people.

DOUGHERTY: The U.S. and its European and Arab allies went for broke at the U.N. this past weekend, failing to stop Russia and China from vetoing a resolution calling on Syria's president to step aside. Now, the U.S. says, blood is on their hands.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: And Russia and China will eventually, I think, come to regret this decision, which has aligned them with a dying dictator.

DOUGHERTY: But Bashar al-Assad still has plenty of fire power left, and a peaceful protest movement risks being taking over by an armed opposition.

ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: We are heading to a new era in the Syrian conflict in which you're going to have a lot more bloodshed, something akin to an all add insurgency against the state as well as dipping into a civil war.


DOUGHERTY (on-camera): What's next? Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, says U.S. will work with countries outside the U.N. to pressure Syria, increase sanctions, try to convince those around Assad to abandon him, and in a warning to Russia, expose those who fund and provide weapons to the Syrian regime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jill, thanks very, very much.

He's known as one of Osama Bin Laden's right-hand men and is believed to be an inspiration behind the 9/11 terror attacks. But now, after years behind wars, there are startling indications this al Qaeda ally may actually go free. Let's bring in our own Brian Todd. He's working with details. Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Abu Qatada, not a household name to many Americans, but he is connected to people who have committed some notorious terror attacks against U.S. interest, and in Britain, there is genuine concern that this man considered very dangerous there will have some measure of freedom very soon.


TODD (voice-over): He's been called Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, his spiritual ambassador to the continent, someone who raised money for terrorist groups linked to Bin Laden. And now, a British court has just ruled that radical cleric, Abu Qatada, should be released on bail. The British home office is furious. In a statement saying, "this is a dangerous man who, we believe, poses a real threat to our security."

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the case does demonstrate is that there was a certain group of people who it is hard to charge with any crime, yet, they do provide the spiritual kind of sanction for terrorist actions. TODD: CNN analyst, Peter Bergen, likens Abu Qatada to Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called "Blind Sheikh" serving a life term in the U.S. for encouraging the 1993 plot to bomb the World trade Center. Bergen points out the terms of Qatada's bail are tough, 22 hours a day under house arrest, no internet or electronic communication. All visitors to his home have to be pre-approved.

(on-camera) But one British official told us, just having Qatada out for two hours a day is, quote, "abhorrent to them," considering his beliefs and the people they say he's influenced.

(voice-over) British officials believe he inspired Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker on September 11th. And Bergen says, that's not all.

BERGEN: I've read interrogation reports demonstrating that he was the spiritual sort of sanctioner of Abu Mussab Akkari who is a notorious terrotist in Iraq who killed a lot of Iraqis and a lot of Americans with his group al Qaeda in Iraq.

Since arriving in Britain in 1993, Qatada's been convicted in absentia by the Jordanian government for involvement in two terrorist attacks in the 1990s and a foiled plot to plant bombs in Jordan around the millennium.


TODD (on-camera): Now, Great Britain has been trying to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, but the European court of human rights has ruled against that, arguing that torture could be used to provide evidence against him.

Qatada's attorney is quoted as saying his detention has now gone on for too long to be reasonable or lawful, pointing out he's been in custody for more than six years under the deportation proceedings and nine years without charges on the grounds of national security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, so what is the British government going to do at this point?

TODD: Well, they tell us they're planning to appeal that bail ruling, first and foremost. They're also weighing their options, their legal options, on the deportation ruling. Right now, you can bet that they're going to be surveilling Abu Qatada around the clock.

They're going to keep eyes on him no matter where he goes. He can only venture out of his house for two hours a day. They're going to keep eyes on him there.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

Five major contests down, but the Republican race for the White House may only just be getting started. Up next, why lower voter turnout could be a major factor in the weeks ahead.

And President Obama says he deserves a second term in office, but has he made the case for re-election? Ahead, voters make a dramatic shift in a new poll. We'll tell you what's going on.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the issue of race is already rearing its ugly head, and we still have nine months to go before the general election. Politico reports no one knows what impact the race card will have on President Obama's re-election prospects, but it's out there. There was Newt Gingrich describing the nation's first African-American president as the food stamp president.

He also suggested poor inner city, mostly minority, New York students should develop a work ethic by mopping their own schools, First Lady Michelle Obama pushing back hard against the idea that she's an angry Black woman, and the president's own re-election campaign, fighting off stories that he's practically given up on the blue collar white vote.

Oh, and Attorney General Eric Holder suggesting some of the trouble he's in because of the "Fast and Furious" gun running operation is because he's Black. But the gasoline that got the race fire lit this time around was this. President Obama and Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, facing off on an airport tarmac.

All that many saw in that famous photograph was a White woman wagging her finger at the first Black president. Their disagreement was part of the ongoing battle over immigration policy. The federal government doesn't have one. For her part, Governor Brewer insists their differences were only about politics, but not everybody sees it that way.

When Brewer said she felt threatened by Mr. Obama that day, the NAACP replied, quote, "What were you afraid he would do? Steal your purse," unquote? It's already getting ugly. Experts say the true impact of racism on voting is too difficult to measure. Some say it will matter less in 2012 because people are focused on their own financial anxieties. But rest assured, racism will be lurking in the shadows throughout the remainder of this campaign.

Here's the question, how much of an issue will race be in the 2012 presidential election? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Five major contests down in the Republican race for the White House, but in many ways, the race is only just beginning and there could be some big surprises before it's all over. Less than 24 hours from now, the candidates face off in Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, two key battleground states, along with a nonbinding primary in Missouri where Newt Gingrich isn't even competing.

On Saturday, Maine wraps up its caucuses which have been going on for days. And at end of the month, February 28th, it's on to two more battleground states Arizona and Michigan. Meanwhile, Team Romney may be leading the pack right now, but there are new signs they're beginning to feel some heat from Rick Santorum, and they're shifting the line of attack.

While Santorum, who's desperate for momentum, isn't missing a chance to throw some of these strongest punches yet.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney is absolutely incapable of making the case against Obamacare successfully, and, therefore, greatly damages our ability to be able to win this election this very critical election in 2012, because there is no greater issue in this race than freedom.



BLITZER: Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, has been looking at voter turnout in the last five Republican contests. Gloria is here with us now. What are you seeing as far as voter turnout enthusiasm, if you will, is concerned?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it really isn't great news for the Republican Party. They expected terrific voter turnout. And if you look at these contests, slightly up in Iowa, they expected a huge turnout in Iowa in 2012 from 2008, slightly up in New Hampshire, very much up in South Carolina. That's very good news for them, but don't forget, that's where some of the most conservative Republicans reside, not a battleground state.

They're the activists who come out to vote. But look at Florida and Nevada, down 14 percent, down 25 percent. These are key battleground states in the fall election and the fact that in a Republican primary, which, by the way, was very hotly contested in the state of Florida, that the voter turnout was down? Not good news for the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of Obama supporters are looking at that, the Florida and Nevada and beginning to think, maybe those two states would be in play for the president in November. Now, I want you to listen to what Newt Gingrich said Saturday night at his news conference, really going after Romney.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has gone negative, and it is working. What I'm asserting to you is over time, I don't believe the American people will approve of the campaign which actually suppresses turnout. I think it amazing if you all look at Florida, every county I carried in Florida had an increased turnout. Every county Romney carried in Florida had a decreased turnout.


BLITZER: All right. Gloria, is he right?

BORGER: Well, he does have a point here. I mean, if you look at Florida, which Mitt Romney won, the voter turnout was down. Look at South Carolina, which Newt Gingrich won. The voter turnout was up. His point is -- and this is the point he's making at the Republican Party is that he can turn out the base of the party in a way that Mitt Romney will be unable to do.

Now, the Romney people say, you know what? Once their man against the nomination, then the Republican voters who don't like Barack Obama will be enthusiastic about coming out to vote for Mitt Romney just because they don't like Barack Obama, but, we don't know the answer to that question. We don't know who's right in that fight yet.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a good point.


BLITZER: Romney, he almost won in Iowa and lost by a few votes, won in New Hampshire and didn't do so well in South Carolina, won decisively in Florida, won decisively in Nevada. He's got some momentum going, but there are some obstacles on his road ahead.

BORGER: Well, it's very interesting because we saw a "Washington Post" poll today, which provided us a little window into what's been happening in this contest. There's a key question, Wolf, who understands the economic problems that people are having? Very important when you vote for the presidency.

If you look right now, look at how much Barack Obama beats Mitt Romney by, that's a huge amount. Also, Wolf, when you look at independent voters right now, Romney and Obama are in a dead heat. A month ago? Mitt Romney was beating Barack Obama with independent voters by about a dozen points.

So, they have clearly been watching this Republican primary, and they haven't liked what they've been seeing. And, again, this is a number that's going to be real trouble for Mitt Romney if it continues.

BLITZER: Long way to go between now and November.

BORGER: Long way.

BLITZER: All right. Gloria, thank you.

It's a story that's gripping the country right now. A man suspected in the disappearance of his wife turns his house into a bomb, killing himself and his two young sons. Now, new information about what the boys knew, potentially, that could have led to their deaths.

And, the animals have the same protection against slavery that people do. Details.

And a new federal case, that's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Federal judges considering arguments in the controversial case that alleges keeping animals in captivity is akin to slavery. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this killer whale is one of five at the center of a lawsuit that could determine whether animals have the same constitutional protections against slavery that apply to human beings.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed the lawsuit against Sea World claiming their held captive and in conditions that amount to enslavement. A judge issued no immediate ruling on a motion to dismiss.

And Newt Gingrich's communication's director is drawing attention with and (INAUDIBLE) Wikipedia entries. Some of the changes involved removing factual references to Gingrich's three marriages as well as mentions of ethic's charges brought against him while he served as House speaker. Some Wikipedia editors say it's inappropriate, while others say the editing is OK.

Some Iraq war veterans groups are pushing for a ticker-tape parade, but the White House announced today that it is planning a different type of tribute. President Obama and the first lady will host a White House dinner for a group of service members who are, quote, "representative of the many thousands of Americans who served in Iraq" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very nice. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

Meantime, President Obama says he deserves a second-term in office, and he says, he has the numbers to prove why, but is it work? Something some insight into his re-election strategy. That's coming up.

And a missing woman's two children killed in an explosion police say their father rigged. Nancy Grace will join me next with what the kids knew about their dad that might have led to their deaths.


BLITZER: Questions still remain on a horrific story in Washington State. Two little boys murdered in a house explosion police say was set by their father. The twist? Their mother vanished three years ago, and police have believed for a long time he also had something to do with that as well. CNNs Dan Simon is covering the story for us. He's on the scene.

Dan, bring us up to date on the tragic developments in this case.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this double-murder-suicide as investigators are calling it seems to be carefully thought out in advance. Investigators tell us that as many as 10 gallons of gasoline was spread throughout the house before the explosion. Quite frankly, no one can understand how a father can do this to his children, ages 5 and 7.


SIMON (voice-over): Neighbor Dale Walden knew it was bad.

DALE WALDEN, POWELLL'S NEIGHBOR: I was in my living room just watching the pregame and there was a big explosion, it shook the house.

SIMON: Outside, a house completely engulfed in flames.

WALDEN: I just knew that if there was anyone in there they didn't survive. You can tell that instantly from what we saw.

SIMON: And inside, a troubled father with his two young sons, 5-year- old Braiden and 7-year-old, Charlie.

ED TROYER, PIERCE CO. WASHINGTON, SHERIFF'S OFFICE SPOKESMAN: I mean this is all on him. He set this up. He did it. He is the one who started the fire.

SIMON: Police believe this was a murder-suicide. Josh Powelll was a person of interest in the investigation into his wife's disappearance. She vanished in Utah in 2009. Her body has never been found. Authorities there were still working to connect him to the case. A month after she vanished Powelll moved the kids to Washington.

CHIEF BUZZ NIELSEN, WEST VALLEY, UTAH POLICE: First the wife, the mother of those two boys, and then, and then, then him and his two sons. You know it's one thing to have him get charged or not charged and deal with it but it's evil.

SIMON: Powelll was involved in a bitter dispute with his wife's family and had been denied custody of his children last week. Just before the blast, a caseworker brought the children to the house. The Department of Social and Health Services says it was part of an ongoing court-ordered visitation schedule and the caseworker is suffering from grave emotional trauma as a result of the horrific event.

WALDEN: She was dropping the children off for a visitation with their dad. That he got them into the house and slammed the door in her face, and she couldn't get in and was out and was trying to call 911 when the explosion occurred.

SIMON: Powelll's attorney said he received an e-mail sent just before the explosion that read, "I'm sorry, good-bye."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is his admission of guilt and he just couldn't handle anymore.

SIMON: In her first interview, Susan Powelll's sister told HLN's Nancy Grace that the boys had started talking about their mother's disappearance.

NANCY GRACE, HOST, HLN'S "NANCY GRACE": Denise, what were they beginning to say about the night your sister went missing?

DENISE COX, POWELLL BOYS' AUNT: From what I gather from my parents talking to me is they said that mom went to go look for crystals and she went into a mine to look for crystals and she never came out. And I've heard them -- they've pointed to a picture of a woman and pointed to her chest and said, mommy, owey (ph).


SIMON: Josh Powelll lost custody of his children after his father, who lived with the family, was charged with possessing child pornography. In court documents filed just last week Josh Powelll said he had proven his fitness as a stable and loving father -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Simon reporting for us from Washington state.

And joining us now, Nancy Grace of our sister network, HLN.

Nancy, this is an awful story. It looks to me like the system really messed up big time right now. These two little boys are dead. What happened here?

GRACE: You know, Wolf, it's so easy to Monday-morning quarterback, say would have, could have, should have, but by all outward appearances, I agree with you. Tonight, at 8:00, over on HLN, I'm going to be speaking to Susan Cox Powelll's sister, Denise. But this is what I've learned so far. The little boys, ages 5 and 7 now, of course this all began a couple of years ago, were starting to verbalize about the night their mom, Susan Cox Powelll, went missing, i.e., was killed.

They are saying that that night, their father took them out in the van. That mommy was, quote, "in the trunk of the car." That mommy and daddy got out and mommy disappeared. That mommy was in the mines looking for crystals.

Wolf, they would see women that resembled their mother, fair skinned with long, dark, hair and go, mommy, owey, mommy, owey. And point to the woman. This went on and on. In my mind, that, combined with the circumstantial evidence of Josh Powelll's insane story that he decides at midnight on a Sunday night to take his two little boys, ages 2 and 4 at that time, camping?

It was 14 degrees outside, Wolf. Camping? He couldn't tell the authorities where they went camping and then he comes home and his wife is just gone with her purse and cell phone still there? I mean, all along there has been a treasure trove of circumstantial evidence that he killed Susan Cox Powelll, his wife after a very controlling and abusive marriage.

But yet no arrest was made. After that, Wolf, he takes the boys, takes them to where his father lives. Wolf, the father, Susan's father-in-law, was put behind bars for child pornography, right then and there the court should have re-evaluated and taken away his right to visitation. Absolutely. Or, if he gave him visitation to the father, which I'm all for visitation, at least have it in a neutral setting. Like a McDonald's or a Burger King or a Monkey Joe's or Mighty Jumps, where he can't blow the place up and have it all rigged for the moment the boys come in, they all are burned to death.

BLITZER: So who screwed up here? Where did the system fail?

GRACE: Well, number one, it's Josh Powelll. He's the one. Because as much as you try to think, we could have done this. We could have done that. Who could foresee him killing his own boys? Well, I, for one, because I remember him saying, I would never hurt the boys or their mom. You can't separate those two because he did hurt his wife. He killed her. There's no other explanation.

BLITZER: But he was never charged and they never found a body and, I assume as a result --

GRACE: And so what are you trying to say, Wolf? He was never charged, so?

BLITZER: Well, under the -- under the rules, are there laws that would forbid the children having visitation -- the father having visitation rights if he's never charged with any crime? He's just a person of interesting with, as they say?

GRACE: Well, this is what could have happened. Number one, his domestic abuse was strongly suspected in the death of Susan Powelll. Visitation, if there was any, should have occurred in a neutral setting like a Burger King or McDonald's, not daddy's home where he could rig the whole place. This poor social worker from what I understand could not have stopped any of this. She opened the car door, the boy ran in, he immediately slams the door, fixes it where she can't get in. She smells gasoline. Calls her boss, steps back and the place goes up in flames.

That's how fast it was. I prosecuted a lot of arsons, Wolf, and it sounds to me by the way the walls literally heaved out that he had gasoline in multiple spots to act basically as a gasoline bomb like a Molotov cocktail. So the boys were immediately burned up. They probably didn't even have time to die of smoke inhalation. They most likely burned to death, would be my death from prosecuting arsons.

So, number one, in light of the fact that the mother has been killed in or taken out of Josh Powelll's home, there should have been a neutral setting for visitation.

Denise Cox tell me her family begged the judge to stop all visitation because they were afraid he would harm the boys. Now that's a red flag. So visitation could have been denied or at least put in a neutral setting. And why a murder charge had not already been in effect, I don't know, other than the prosecution may have wanted to wait until they have more of an airtight case because once you lose the case you can't retry it even if you've got a confession or find the body.

BLITZER: Good point. Nancy is going to have a lot more later tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern on HLN.

GRACE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nancy, thanks very much for joining us.

GRACE: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: President Obama explains why he says he deserves a second term in office. Inside the Obama re-election strategy. That's coming up.

Plus, a woman who said she had an affair with President John F. Kennedy when she was a teenager. The steamy details of her tell-all book and more. That's coming up as well.


BLITZER: A former White House intern is now speaking out about the affair she says she had with President John F. Kennedy. The details are in a tell-all book being released this week.

CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She has a copy of the book.

And Mary, this is quite a story. Give us some of the headlines.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the book, "Once Upon a Secret," it comes out on Wednesday. It's salacious and at times dark. Mimi Beardsley offered claims she began an affair with President Kennedy in between her freshman and sophomore years of college, and she claims it lasted until just days before the president was killed.


SNOW (voice-over): Her name is Mimi Beardsley Alford, and the 69- year-grandmother writes in a new book, "Once Upon a Secret," that she began an 18-month affair with President Kennedy in the summer of 1962. Four days after starting as a White House intern, she says she met the president in the White House swimming pool after being invited by a presidential aide.

"The president slid into the pool and floated up to me," she writes. "It's Mimi, isn't it, he said. Yes, sir, I said. Mimi Beardsley, and you're in the press office this summer, right? Yes, sir, I am, I replied."

In an exclusive interview with NBC Alford says she didn't consider the invitation unusual.

MIMI BEARDSLEY ALFORD, "ONCE UPON A SECRET": But it really didn't seem unnatural just because everybody was friendly and I went back to work afterwards.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC: You just dried off and went back and nobody blinked?

ALFORD: No. No one said anything.

SNOW: Later that day Alford says she had sex for the first time in her life with the 45-year-old president in Mrs. Kennedy's bedroom. She claimed she stayed over at the White House on many occasions since Mrs. Kennedy was away that summer.

"Do what you want, the president would say to me. You can go home or you can stay."

Alford claims to have traveled with the president on several occasions and writes that after returning to college she was flown to Washington and that includes a visit, she claims, in October of 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis. The last time she says she saw the president was on November 15th, at the Carlysle Hotel in New York. Just days before he was assassinated.

"He took me in his arms for a long embrace, and said, I wish you were coming with me to Texas, and then he added, I'll call you when I get back."

Alford says she reminded the president she was to be married in just months but says he told her, he'd call her regardless. The one person Mimi mentions who knew about the relationship was an aide named Dave Powers but whatever he knew he took to the grave dying in 1998.

Mimi Beardsley Alford first spoke of the affair in 2003 issuing a statement after being tracked down by a "New York Daily" news reporter. It came after historian Robert Delick wrote that it was rumored President Kennedy had an affair with a young intern. And then there's this account from a White House press aide during the Kennedy years found at the Kennedy Library. It's a transcript from 1964, in which he talks about Mimi having a special relationship with President Kennedy. She talks about the press inquiring why Mimi was on presidential trips and she talks about girls in the White House going swimming with the president and Dave Powers.


SNOW: And, Wolf, of course, the big question is, why is she releasing this book now? Besides this book deal that she's gotten, it's not exactly clear why she's talking now. But Alford writes in the book that she didn't want to continue keeping these secrets anymore and that she wanted to take control of her story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.

If the presidential race were held today, who would win? President Obama? Would Mitt Romney win if he were the Republican nominee? We have new numbers. The president's re-election strategy, we're going inside that when we come back.


BLITZER: President Obama is now directly and publicly making the case that he deserves to be re-elected to a second term.

Let's go to the White House, our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin has the latest.

What's going on, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the good economic news for the nation is clearly good news for the president. As he's making his case for re-election.


YELLIN (voice-over): On Super Bowl Sunday, President Obama looked for a win of his own.


YELLIN: That comes just three years after another Super Bowl Sunday when he said this about turning around the economy --

OBAMA: If I don't have this done in three there's going to be a one- term proposition.

YELLIN: Republicans have used that line against him ever since.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said if I can't turn the economy around in three years, I'll be looking at a one-term proposition. Well, we're here to collect tonight.

YELLIN: Now unemployment is falling. It's down to 8.3 percent. But still, no modern president has been re-elected with a rate that high. So the Obama victory plan? Try to make this election all about a vision for the future economy.

OBAMA: Whoever the Republican nominee is, I fundamentally disagree with a formula that would go back to the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

We've got to return to old-fashioned American values. Everybody getting a fair shot, everybody doing their fair share.

YELLIN: And if critics pounce, the president has a slew of statistics at the ready.

OBAMA: We created 3.7 million jobs over the last 23 months. We've created the most jobs since 2005, the most manufacturing jobs since 1990.

YELLIN: Wait, they've even got a chart. And it shows private sector job growth has increased during the Obama years. So how is it going over? A brand-new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows President Obama with a nine-point lead nationally against Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney. That's a dramatic 10-point change in less than a month. But it's not all good news for the White House. Mitt Romney still holds a slight lead over the president when it comes to who Americans trust to handle the economy. And who they trust to create jobs.


YELLIN: And Wolf, you might not be surprised to hear that today Mitt Romney said no, the president does not deserve a second term. So far, Mitt Romney has argued that the president has not done a good job creating jobs and as president Mitt Romney would do a better job. Clearly that would be a harder case to make if these unemployment numbers continue to improve as they have this month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in the next six, seven, eight, nine months. That will be very, very important.

Jessica, thank you.

Let's check back with Jack for the "Cafferty File." Jack.

CAFFERTY: Our question this hour is how much of an issue will race be in the 2012 presidential election.

Pete in Florida writes, "I'm a 67-year-old white man who's lived in Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida for over 20 years. And I can assure you race will be a major factor. I expect most blacks will vote for Obama. And every white guy I know will vote against him. Whenever there's no blacks around us, I hear is the N word constantly, even at church, and not in a good way, especially when Obama's name comes up. Racism never died down here in the south. It mostly just hides in the closet and jumps out whenever the coast seems clear. And it will never change because the kids are raised with the same hatreds."

Jack in Chicago writes, "Racism is already here, Jack. We have a Republican House that won't move forward on anything that our president wants simply because it's a black man who wants it. It's thinly veiled but it's also strikingly bare for those who bother to look."

Pat writes, "Race is not an issue with me. Obama's social policies lack of interest in controlling spending, and his disregard of the constitution and legislative and judicial branches of government are detrimental to the future of this country."

Richard in Pennsylvania, "Of course race will be an issue. The liberal Democrats will make sure their billion-dollar campaign war chest stresses Obama's race and not his failed presidency. The important issues will take a backseat because the Democrats will skew any objection to failed policies as being racial in their origin."

And Mike in New Orleans writes, "Both race and gender are lesser issues now because of the breakthrough successes of Obama and Hillary Clinton. But candidates like Newt Gingrich will always appeal to the Republican base by using racial code speak with a wink and a nod referring to food stamps and inner city children who should clean toilets. The GOP base loves that kind of pandering." If you want to read more on this subject go to my blog or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

An inmate in Vermont comes up with a "Moos Usual Way" to insult state police. Jeanne Moos is next.


BLITZER: So how did an inmate in Vermont get police officers to put an image of a pig on their cruisers?

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forget pigs in a pen. This is about a pig that came out of the pen as in penitentiary and ended up on Vermont state police cruisers. The cruisers are decked out with decals based on Vermont's coat of arms. At a correctional facility print shop where female inmates make the decals, someone changed the spots on the cow. The pig ended up on as many as 30 police cruisers. And you know from the movies what pig means to police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bacon, pig, oink, oink, police officer.


MOOS: In this case the perpetrator was already in jail. It's believed an inmate doctored the image at the printing shop four years ago. Though the pig wasn't noticed until an officer saw it on a cruiser just last week.

(On camera): Next thing you know, people start spotting pigs in places other than the cow's spots.

(Voice-over): They're seeing a pig's head formed by the cow's shadow. It may be a stretch but do you see two ears and a snout? Vermont State Senator John Campbell laughed off the incident.

STATE SEN. JOHN CAMPBELL (D), VERMONT: That's just like where's Waldo, we're going to say where's the pig.

MOOS: Vermont's corrections commissioner, Andy Polito, wasn't so jolly about the police being slipped a pig.


MOOS: A spokesperson for the state police says they understand the humor in this but the prank does come at a cost to taxpayers. New decals will run about 800 bucks. But using the term pig isn't what it used to be. MIKE MYERS, ACTOR, "WAYNE'S WORLD": I smell bacon. Does anyone else smell bacon?

DANA CARVEY, ACTOR, "WAYNE'S WORLD": Yes, I definitely smell a pork product of some type.

MOOS: Nowadays police themselves call their own sporting events the pig bowl. And while everyone was looking for more pigs, some wanted to know what the weird yellow mushroom phallic things are. Get your minds out of the gutter. They're bundles of grains. Stop being a pig.

Jeannie Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Don't forget to join us tomorrow evening for our special live coverage of the primaries and caucuses beginning at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow evening right here on CNN. Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.